Editor’s note: This article originally ran in November 2017.
Over the years, President Thomas S. Monson shared several Thanksgiving tales that help us remember gratitude, charity, and the hand of God on our lives. Here are three such stories that would be perfect to read or retell at the dinner table this Thanksgiving.
1. "Let's Forget Thanksgiving This Year"
The following story is taken from President Monson's October 2010 conference talk "The Divine Gift of Gratitude."
I share with you an account of one family which was able to find blessings in the midst of serious challenges. This is an account I read many years ago and have kept because of the message it conveys. It was written by Gordon Green and appeared in an American magazine over 50 years ago.
Gordon tells how he grew up on a farm in Canada, where he and his siblings had to hurry home from school while the other children played ball and went swimming. Their father, however, had the capacity to help them understand that their work amounted to something. This was especially true after harvest time when the family celebrated Thanksgiving, for on that day their father gave them a great gift. He took an inventory of everything they had.
On Thanksgiving morning he would take them to the cellar with its barrels of apples, bins of beets, carrots packed in sand, and mountains of sacked potatoes as well as peas, corn, string beans, jellies, strawberries, and other preserves which filled their shelves. He had the children count everything carefully. Then they went out to the barn and figured how many tons of hay there were and how many bushels of grain in the granary. They counted the cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and geese. Their father said he wanted to see how they stood, but they knew he really wanted them to realize on that feast day how richly God had blessed them and had smiled upon all their hours of work. Finally, when they sat down to the feast their mother had prepared, the blessings were something they felt.
Gordon indicated, however, that the Thanksgiving he remembered most thankfully was the year they seemed to have nothing for which to be grateful.
The year started off well: they had leftover hay, lots of seed, four litters of pigs, and their father had a little money set aside so that someday he could afford to buy a hay loader—a wonderful machine most farmers just dreamed of owning. It was also the year that electricity came to their town—although not to them because they couldn’t afford it.
One night when Gordon’s mother was doing her big wash, his father stepped in and took his turn over the washboard and asked his wife to rest and do her knitting. He said, “You spend more time doing the wash than sleeping. Do you think we should break down and get electricity?” Although elated at the prospect, she shed a tear or two as she thought of the hay loader that wouldn’t be bought.
So the electrical line went up their lane that year. Although it was nothing fancy, they acquired a washing machine that worked all day by itself and brilliant lightbulbs that dangled from each ceiling. There were no more lamps to fill with oil, no more wicks to cut, no more sooty chimneys to wash. The lamps went quietly off to the attic.
The coming of electricity to their farm was almost the last good thing that happened to them that year. Just as their crops were starting to come through the ground, the rains started. When the water finally receded, there wasn’t a plant left anywhere. They planted again, but more rains beat the crops into the earth. Their potatoes rotted in the mud. They sold a couple of cows and all the pigs and other livestock they had intended to keep, getting very low prices for them because everybody else had to do the same thing. All they harvested that year was a patch of turnips which had somehow weathered the storms.
Then it was Thanksgiving again. Their mother said, “Maybe we’d better forget it this year. We haven’t even got a goose left.”
On Thanksgiving morning, however, Gordon’s father showed up with a jackrabbit and asked his wife to cook it. Grudgingly she started the job, indicating it would take a long time to cook that tough old thing. When it was finally on the table with some of the turnips that had survived, the children refused to eat. Gordon’s mother cried, and then his father did a strange thing. He went up to the attic, got an oil lamp, took it back to the table, and lighted it. He told the children to turn out the electric lights. When there was only the lamp again, they could hardly believe that it had been that dark before. They wondered how they had ever seen anything without the bright lights made possible by electricity.
The food was blessed, and everyone ate. When dinner was over, they all sat quietly. Wrote Gordon:
“In the humble dimness of the old lamp, we were beginning to see clearly again. …
“It [was] a lovely meal. The jackrabbit tasted like turkey and the turnips were the mildest we could recall. …
“… [Our] home … , for all its want, was so rich [to] us.”1
My brothers and sisters, to express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude ever in our hearts is to touch heaven.
1. Adapted from H. Gordon Green, “The Thanksgiving I Don’t Forget,” Reader’s Digest, Nov. 1956, 69–71.
2. "What Does Turkey Taste Like?"
The following story is from To The Rescue: The Biography of President Thomas S. Monson written by Heidi S. Swinton. Background for the story: Gladys and Spence are President Monson's parents. Other names are those of his aunts and uncles.
The family always gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. Gladys put the turkey in the “big oven” over at Annie’s, and the sisters took turns checking its progress. Spence had charge of setting the table after he got home from four hours at the print shop and before he and the boys went to the annual University of Utah versus Utah State football game, which started at noon. Rusty, Spence, Rich, Jack, Tom, and Bob scrambled to get there for the kickoff. The Monsons were Ute fans, and in 1940 they cheered Marge’s new boyfriend, Conway Dearden, on the football team and then watched as she marched on the field with the “Spurs” club at halftime.
One year, the home was buzzing with Thanksgiving preparations when Charlie Renshaw, a friend from over the back fence, stood outside, as was the custom of these young friends, and hollered, “Tom-my!”
When Tommy answered the summons, Charlie said, “It sure smells good in there. What are you eating?”
Tommy told him it was turkey, and Charlie asked what turkey tasted like.
Tom responded, “Oh, about like chicken,” to which Charlie asked, “What does chicken taste like?”
Tom ran into the kitchen, snatched a piece of breast meat, and handed it to his friend. “That’s good!” the boy said.
When Tom asked what Charlie’s family was having for dinner, the answer was, “I dunno. There’s nothing in the house.”
Tom pondered. He knew his mother always found something to feed those who came to the door. He had no extra turkeys, chickens, or money. But he did have two pet rabbits, a male and female, the pride of his life, beautiful New Zealand whites. He motioned to his friend and headed for the specially constructed rabbit hutch built by one of his uncles. He reached in and grabbed his two pet rabbits, put them in a gunnysack, and handed the bag to Charlie.
“Rabbit meat tastes better than chicken,” Tom said. “Their hide makes really good knuckle pads when you are playing marbles. You know, you can sell the hides for a quarter each over at the hide company. These two rabbits will give your family a good dinner.”
Charlie was on the fence—the boys used the fences like sidewalks in his neighborhood—and heading for his yard before Tom could close the door to his empty rabbit hutch. He realized he had given all he had. He had met someone else’s need and did not regret it. The pattern was in place: “I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat. . . . Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
His life has continued to be a tangible expression of the Lord’s words.
3. An Extra Loaf of Bread
The following story comes from President Monson's October 2013 conference talk "We Never Walk Alone."
Tiffany’s difficulties began last year when she had guests at her home for Thanksgiving and then again for Christmas. Her husband had been in medical school and was now in the second year of his medical residency. Because of the long work hours required of him, he was not able to help her as much as they both would have liked, and so most of that which needed to be accomplished during this holiday season, in addition to the care of their four young children, fell to Tiffany. She was becoming overwhelmed, and then she learned that one who was dear to her had been diagnosed with cancer. The stress and worry began to take a heavy toll on her, and she slipped into a period of discouragement and depression. She sought medical help, and yet nothing changed. Her appetite disappeared, and she began to lose weight, which her tiny frame could ill afford. She sought peace through the scriptures and prayed for deliverance from the gloom which was overtaking her. When neither peace nor help seemed to come, she began to feel abandoned by God. Her family and friends prayed for her and tried desperately to help. They delivered her favorite foods in an attempt to keep her physically healthy, but she could take only a few bites and then would be unable to finish.
On one particularly trying day, a friend attempted in vain to entice her with foods she had always loved. When nothing worked, the friend said, “There must be something that sounds good to you.”
Tiffany thought for a moment and said, “The only thing I can think of that sounds good is homemade bread.”
But there was none on hand.
The following afternoon Tiffany’s doorbell rang. Her husband happened to be home and answered it. When he returned, he was carrying a loaf of homemade bread. Tiffany was astonished when he told her it had come from a woman named Sherrie, whom they barely knew. She was a friend of Tiffany’s sister Nicole, who lived in Denver, Colorado. Sherrie had been introduced to Tiffany and her husband briefly several months earlier when Nicole and her family were staying with Tiffany for Thanksgiving. Sherrie, who lived in Omaha, had come to Tiffany’s home to visit with Nicole.
Now, months later, with the delicious bread in hand, Tiffany called her sister Nicole to thank her for sending Sherrie on an errand of mercy. Instead, she learned Nicole had not instigated the visit and had no knowledge of it.
The rest of the story unfolded as Nicole checked with her friend Sherrie to find out what had prompted her to deliver that loaf of bread. What she learned was an inspiration to her, to Tiffany, to Sherrie—and it is an inspiration to me.
On that particular morning of the bread delivery, Sherrie had been prompted to make two loaves of bread instead of the one she had planned to make. She said she felt impressed to take the second loaf with her in her car that day, although she didn’t know why. After lunch at a friend’s home, her 1-year-old daughter began to cry and needed to be taken home for a nap. Sherrie hesitated when the unmistakable feeling came to her that she needed to deliver that extra loaf of bread to Nicole’s sister Tiffany, who lived 30 minutes away on the other side of town and whom she barely knew. She tried to rationalize away the thought, wanting to get her very tired daughter home and feeling sheepish about delivering a loaf of bread to people who were almost strangers. However, the impression to go to Tiffany’s home was strong, so she heeded the prompting.
When she arrived, Tiffany’s husband answered the door. Sherrie reminded him that she was Nicole’s friend whom he’d met briefly at Thanksgiving, handed him the loaf of bread, and left.
And so it happened that the Lord sent a virtual stranger across town to deliver not just the desired homemade bread but also a clear message of love to Tiffany. What happened to her cannot be explained in any other way. She had an urgent need to feel that she wasn’t alone—that God was aware of her and had not abandoned her. That bread—the very thing she wanted—was delivered to her by someone she barely knew, someone who had no knowledge of her need but who listened to the prompting of the Spirit and followed that prompting. It became an obvious sign to Tiffany that her Heavenly Father was aware of her needs and loved her enough to send help. He had responded to her cries for relief.